Randal Robertson, left, of Camp Hill, Angela Sharrer of New Oxford and LaRae Derr of Elizabethtown celebrate after the House of Representatives passed the bill.
After the vote, Sen. Mike Folmer comforts Donnamarie Freedman, whose son committed suicide.
Hannah Schuker, 12, and her mother, Heather Schuker of McCandless, watch the House of Representatives debate Senate Bill 3, which would legalize medical marijuana, Wednesday in Harrisburg. Hannah has severe intractable epilepsy.
Molly Robertson, left, and her husband Randal Ray Robertson, both of Camp Hill, and Brenda McGowan get emotional as Pennsylvania representatives debate Senate Bill 3, which would legalize medical marijuana, in Harrisburg Wednesday.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — The House on Wednesday approved allowing the medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania, sending the legislation to the Senate, which has approved medical cannabis bills in the past.
The vote was 149-43, with all voting Democrats and more than half of Republicans in support.
Advocates and Gov. Tom Wolf applauded the House vote, which followed emotional debate from supporters and opponents alike. Julie Michaels, who has traveled to the state Capitol from her home in Fayette County to advocate for medical marijuana, said she felt a “huge sense of relief that we got through the House, which had been our biggest stumbling block to this point.”
“Hopefully everything will be smooth sailing from here, straight to the governor’s desk,” said Ms. Michaels, whose daughter Sydney, 6, has Dravet syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy.
The Senate approved medical marijuana legislation in 2014 and again last year. For the proposal that passed the House on Wednesday to reach the governor’s desk, the Senate will have to agree with changes made by the House. Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a major proponent of medical marijuana in the Senate, says he has to review the House amendments, but added, “We want to get this done ASAP.”
On the House floor, Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, said that years ago he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and underwent a lengthy surgery. He said he was told that his cancer is hereditary, and he told his fellow representatives that he has two daughters.
“With the odds somewhat likely that they’ll deal with this, too, I want them to have access to comfort that I did not have,” he said, his voice sounding strained. “Please let my kids have access to this.”
House Health Committee Chairman Matt Baker, R-Tioga, warned that by authorizing medical marijuana, Pennsylvania would bypass the Food and Drug Administration approval process and go against the recommendations of medical associations. He pointed, for example, to opposition from the American Epilepsy Society.
“I cannot remember when the last time this august body voted on a bill that was in direct violation of federal law,” Mr. Baker said.
The legislation that that passed the House would establish a system of growers and dispensaries to provide marijuana to patients with certain conditions — including cancer, epilepsy, HIV and AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder — and who have been certified by a doctor. Patients would be allowed to use marijuana in the form of a pill or oil or through vaporization, among other methods, but they would not be allowed to smoke it.
Sales from growers and processors to dispensaries would be taxed at 5 percent, with the money paying for Department of Health operations related to the program, for law enforcement and drug abuse services and for research about medical marijuana.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who has urged the General Assembly to pass the legislation, said in a statement that he looks forward to the Senate sending him the bill.
“We will finally provide the essential help needed by patients suffering from seizures, cancer and other illnesses,” Mr. Wolf said.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley
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